Album: Midnight Ride
Turn off! Tune out! Drop in!
Whether or not Paul Revere and The Raiders were truly as anti-drug as their biggest hit single — OK, “Indian Reservation,” was bigger, but that was Mark Lindsay with the Wrecking Crew, and only branded as “The Raiders” for maximum commerciality — seemed to indicate they were, but they sure did look like nice clean-cut young men, albeit ones who dressed up as Revolutionary War soldiers. Which you’ve noticed I can’t really let go of.
In any event, “Kicks” — written by Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, and originally offered to The Animals (and you can totally hear Eric Burdon singing it, can’t you?) — is such a prime slice of 60s pop-rock that it doesn’t matter that the words are bashing you around the head with their message. For one thing, did anybody ever call getting high on drugs “kicks”? Without getting too “actually” here, I feel like I’m relatively up on drug terminology from the 60s & 70s, and outside of the context of this song — which doesn’t count as source material — “kicks” wasn’t a synonym for “wasted.” It’s always been a general synonym for “fun.”
And of course, none of that matter, because “Kicks” runs all of my quibbles over with a truck. Kicking off with an instantly memorable almost twangy guitar riff and wasting almost no time getting into the mansplaining about how bad bad bad drugs are — I wonder if Jon Kay wrote “Magic Carpet Ride” as a pisstake on this — while the guitars are washing underneath Hal Blane’s tambourine-enhanced double-time snare beat, “Kicks” tells the haters to fuck off with a chorus for the ages.
And don’t it seem like
Kicks just keep gettin’ harder to find
And all your kicks ain’t bringin’ you peace of mind
Before you find out it’s too late, girl,
You better get straight
No, but not with kicks
It goes without saying that Lindsay sings the hell out of this, and with keyboardist Paul Revere, guitarist Drake Levin and Bassist Phil Volk adding powerful harmonies — and they played on it, too — the chorus of “Kicks” was an instant dopamine rush, near heroin levels of addictive. The first taste of that chorus was free, but they knew that that you were going to want more and more, so after a second verse it’s back to the chorus, and then a jangly guitar bridge that was almost a tease.
No, you don’t need kicks
To help you face the world each day
That road goes nowhere
I’m gonna help you find yourself
And as Lindsay holds out that “wayyyyyyyyyyyyy,” the rest of the guys rush in with that chorus, while Lindsay continues “you don’t need kicks, girl / you just need help, girl” before joining back in for one last hit of the chorus. It’s totally and utterly glorious, a truly transcendent moment — the equivalent of being on really great drugs!
“Kicks” made it all the way to #4, the first of a few top ten hits for Paul Revere and The Raiders, and a song that’s been covered both totally sincerely and completely ironically, as well as — and I think this is why my close personal friends The Wayne Foundation covered it — because it’s just a fucking great song.
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